Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Writing advice from the greats: John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck
In my first post on writing advice from the greats, we looked at what the Slaughterhouse-Five author, Kurt Vonnegut, had to say about writing good stories. The good writing advice does not stop there; John Steinbeck famously claimed that no one has been able to reduce story writing to a recipe, yet even he had a few ingredients of his own for creating good stories.

John Steinbeck's 6 writing tips:
  1. Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised.
  2. Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.
  3. Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
  4. If a scene or a section gets the better of you and you still think you want it—bypass it and go on. When you have finished the whole you can come back to it and then you may find that the reason it gave trouble is because it didn’t belong there.
  5. Beware of a scene that becomes too dear to you, dearer than the rest. It will usually be found that it is out of drawing.
  6. If you are using dialogue—say it aloud as you write it. Only then will it have the sound of speech.
Even the writers who claim there are no rules admit that there are a few that they live by. The only one I've taken to heart is that you never, never show anyone your work until the first draft is complete. Do you have one unbreakable writing rule? Please share it with us.

Next up on Advice from the Greats: Henry Miller's 11 commandments.

Liane Spicer


Charles Gramlich said...

I agree with most of this advice, except for rewriting. I have to rewrite each day what I did the day before to get going again. It may not be much but I need to get back in the flow.

Julie Luek said...

Steinbeck is among my favorite. I enjoy reading the advice of authors who have "made it". Each has their unique take on how to be successful. I think the large take-away message is write. Do it. And find the formula that works for you.

Carol Mitchell said...

Number 2 is a problem for me. I know I should not do it, but I often start my writing time reviewing and rewriting which does not do much to help me progress my wip. I really have to stop.

My latest rule is "Write no matter what!" :-)

Liane Spicer said...

Charles, I reread what I wrote the day before to get back into the flow, but I try to refrain from getting too caught up in rewriting.

Liane Spicer said...

Julie, exactly. There's no one method that works for everyone.

Liane Spicer said...

Carol, the "write no matter what" rule is one I'm fighting to master right now. It's a toughie.

Jewel Amethyst said...

I don't agree with the one on rewriting. I find if I rewrite before I go on, I get a better flow. Originally I read the whole story from the beginning before going on and that was terribly time consuming. Now I just read and edit (if needed) the previous chapter or few pages and then go on. That works very well for me.

Rob Wylie said...

I tend to write anywhere between two and five chapters, and then take an entire day to do nothing but rewrite and revise. I find that I usually find the things that aren't working for me, but I also usually find some small piece of something that I can expand or build on in later chapters.

Liane Spicer said...

Jewel, just proves that every writer must throw the 'rules' out and decide what works best for her/him.

Liane Spicer said...

Rob, interesting process. That way you don't get to the end and then realize something in chapter four that impacts everything that follows just isn't working.